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Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: October 20, 5:41 PM ET
Michael Vick's next lesson

By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com

Michael Vick's next press release should probably read like this:

"Dear America: I understand there are strong feelings against me. I just want to apologize for still breathing."

Michael Vick
Michael Vick keeps apologizing, even if it doesn't close the gap with those who doubt him.

Clearly I'm being sarcastic. It's just that when Vick confirmed last week he owned a dog, Vick's statement had that tone.

"I understand the strong emotions by some people about our family's decision to care for a pet," Vick said. "As a father, it is important to make sure my children develop a healthy relationship with animals. I want to ensure that my children establish a loving bond and treat all of God's creatures with kindness and respect. Our pet is well cared for and loved as a member of our family."

Obviously, there wasn't any biting sarcasm in Vick's statement. Like the numerous apologizes Vick has made since he was convicted of funding and orchestrating a dogfighting ring, Vick seemed earnest and sincere.

Still, the feeling seems to be that when a person does something as atrocious as what Vick did, living among a certain amount of contempt is well deserved. Such people don't deserve to be released from prison. They don't deserve an NFL career. They don't deserve another $100 million contract.

And apparently they don't deserve the opportunity to teach their children better than they were taught.

If the whole point of convicting wrongdoers isn't just to punish them, but also to rehabilitate some of them, then shouldn't Vick's ownership of a dog be considered a step forward?

Since being released from prison in 2009, Vick has spoken out against animal cruelty, using his celebrity and notoriety to reach people the American Humane Society normally doesn't.

Vick has toured the country for years now speaking to children in inner cities -- where Vick is revered and dogfighting has become extremely prevalent -- about cruelty to animals.

A humane society spokesperson told me on Tuesday that it didn't want to comment on Vick's dog ownership, but Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle has said in the past that he believed Vick would make a good pet owner.

Michael Vick
Uba and some of the other dogs previously owned by Michael Vick's kennel were adopted by new owners.

That's likely because Vick's efforts to bolster the anti-dogfighting campaign have seemed genuine. Vick has appeared before Congress to promote anti-dogfighting legislation. He told his perverse cautionary tale to incoming players at the NFL Rookie Symposium this year.

Some activists and fans aren't sold, of course. On some level, it's difficult to blame them. Vick admitted to hanging and drowning dogs, and if you conjure those images, Vick will never be more than an unsympathetic monster.

Banish that image for a moment and forget about the fortune and freedom he lost: You can't tell me that working closely with the Humane Society, and being exposed to the organization's information about animal cruelty and its vigilant fight against such abuse hasn't made an impact on Vick's psyche.

And perhaps it's even made him more regretful than he already was.

Vick's actions have been that of a changed man -- even if his penchant for turnovers this season suggests that remnants of the same old quarterback remain.

In Vick's statement, he said he saw owning a dog as an "opportunity to break the cycle." Vick has admitted before that his upbringing was partially responsible for his interest in dogfighting. He wasn't taught to value dogs. So what better way for Vick to be an example to his own children than by showing them respect for animals?

Emotional pet activists who hate Vick might have a difficult time accepting this, but Vick's dogfighting case has given their cause a broader platform and the negative publicity it deserves.

Vick's ownership of a dog -- and his presumed sincerity in treating it with love and kindness -- will continue to do wonders in bringing awareness to animal cruelty. Stranger things have happened, but considering what animal cruelty cost him before, Vick would have to be a real stooge to ever engage in that sordid activity again.

And while Vick's cooperation with the Humane Society doesn't erase his horrendous misdeeds, his ownership of a dog is the strongest indicator that he has overcome the demons that some of us still can't see past.